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Advice on Executive Director Evaluations from Bruce Wayne and Batman

It’s troubling to learn that many nonprofit boards—especially the smaller ones—are not upholding their stewardship responsibility to evaluate their Executive Director (ED) on a regular basis. According to CompassPoint’s 2011 “Daring to Lead Report,” only 45% of EDs receive regular evaluation from their board, and even fewer report finding the feedback helpful. ED evaluations are crucial to a nonprofit organization’s success because they serve multiple critical purposes. To highlight the roles ED evaluations serve, we’re using the metaphor of the Bruce Wayne/Batman dichotomy – but although the character is fictional, the real problems that arise from a lack of evaluation are not.

Executive Director Evaluation

What Do ED Evaluations Have To Do With Batman?

Two halves of the same person, Batman and Bruce Wayne approach their common goal to protect Gotham City in different ways. Batman acts from a position of moral responsibility, whilst Wayne (who, by the way, sits on the Wayne Foundation’s Board of Directors) considers the hardline advantages and disadvantages for his corporation.

As a board member considering the value of an evaluation process, you need to embody both Wayne and Batman. ED evaluations affect both the business and the relationships of your nonprofit.

The “Batman Approach”: Crusading For The Good

Batman approaches his mission from the perspective that it’s his moral responsibility to fight crime; he does it because he has a deeply personal story with crime, and he knows the impact when good prevails. And that’s one reason you need to prioritize annual ED evaluations—they promote “the good.”

There are many benefits to the organization when you incorporate regular ED evaluations into your practices. An Executive Director evaluation is an opportunity to:

  • Assess ED performance and ensure the ED is advancing the mission
  • Align board and ED expectations around roles
  • Highlight and celebrate achievements
  • Set goals and priorities for the coming year
  • Identify areas for improvement
  • Evaluate relationship with staff members, donors, and other constituents
  • Document issues from a legal standpoint
  • Signal to funders that you take your stewardship role seriously

Completing a 360 evaluation, where staff and other stakeholders provide feedback, provides even more information to assess successes, gaps or challenges that the board may not see have visibility on.

In addition, regular evaluations increase your ED’s effectiveness, productivity, and retention by demonstrating your interest in their accomplishments and in their continued learning. But there are other intrinsic rewards that come from regularly evaluating your leader. Consistent evaluations create better working relationships, open up lines of communication with all stakeholders, establish support for the ED, and make future conversations easier to broach. The trickle-down effect promotes a strong culture of learning and continuous improvement within the whole organization that benefits other staff development and advancement of the mission.

From this perspective, ED evaluations promote the “good”; they allow your organization and everyone working within it the opportunity to feel purposeful and supported.

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The “Bruce Wayne” Approach: Managing Risk

All that “good” stuff aside, Bruce Wayne understands the business advantages of regular ED evaluations. As a businessman specializing in technology and data, he would approach this issue from the perspective that ED evaluations mitigate risks.

ED evaluations protect your organization—and as a steward, it’s your responsibility to safeguard your organization against potential problems. Think of it from the perspective of a litigation attorney or an insurance underwriter; what would they suggest to mitigate risk? They would surely recommend regular, documented ED evaluations. In the event of a legal issue that requires your documented evaluations, you’ll be prepared. For example, should you ever terminate your ED, you may legally need to present evidence of evaluations. No one enjoys preparing for “worst case scenarios” such as these, but a successful organization depends on the board for that preparedness.

Whether you’re more of a Batman or a Bruce Wayne in your approach to your mission, one thing is clear: you should prioritize Executive Director Evaluation – not only is it the right thing to do, it’s also a vital risk management necessity. Reap the multitude of benefits that regular ED evaluations achieve and simultaneously mitigate risk: there are so many reasons to insist on ED evaluations – but the most important one is that is helps your organization keep increasing its ability to deliver on its mission.

Contact us today to find out how Olive Grove can help transform your organization’s long term success.

Emily Hall

Emily Hall

Emily Hall, Olive Grove’s Founder & CEO, has provided strategic consulting services to thousands of community leaders, social entrepreneurs, nonprofits, board members, corporations, governments and philanthropists over two decades. She has enhanced the impact of organizations of every size, sector, stage of development, and mission focus, and helped individuals focusing their giving for maximum impact.